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Sites of Special Scientific Interest

15. Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of English Nature in protecting sites of special scientific interest. [146383]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave English Nature new powers to protect SSSIs from harm, and to concentrate funding on improving their condition through positive management. The Department is working with English Nature and others to increase the percentage of SSSI land in favourable condition. The first complete condition assessment of the 4,112 sites in England was published in full last month. I should add that I have seen the work of English Nature on my recent visits to national parks, and it is very impressive.

Colin Burgon : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but cannot agree with this classification of the work of English Nature. If I had to give it a mark for its work in my constituency, I would give it nul points. It gives us very little help in protecting SSSIs. We recently fought an opencast sand and gravel application between Methley and Allerton Bywater. If I were to write to the Minister, would he give me a considered reply that would help to illustrate the weakness of the approach adopted by English Nature?

Alun Michael: I should be happy to look at any specific issues that my hon. Friend wishes to raise. The Government's 95 per cent. target is a tough and challenging one, spread across a very large number of sites. However, I should be happy to look at specific examples, if my hon. Friend would like to write to me.

Common Agricultural Policy

16. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): When she will make an announcement on the method of making agricultural support payments to farmers in 2005 following the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy. [146384]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): We hope to make an announcement on the model for allocating entitlements under the new single payment scheme in a matter of weeks.

Paddy Tipping : The outcome of the mid-term review was a radical and progressive step. Will my right hon. Friend go further down that path and introduce

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proposals that do not rely only on historical claims, but which pay close attention to those voices that advocate a hybrid solution?

Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those observations. We have received some 800 responses to the consultation that we carried out following the reformed negotiations, and their variety was most interesting. Some responses supported historic allocation, while others supported area-based schemes and still others supported hybrid solutions. We are considering all those proposals with great care, and are paying particular and detailed attention to their impact on farm incomes and on the future and sustainability of UK farming.

Bovine Tuberculosis

18. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What recent assessment her Department has made of the spread of bovine TB. [146386]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Our latest assessment shows that bovine TB restrictions affected approximately 5 per cent. of cattle herds in Great Britain between January and November 2003, compared with nearly 4 per cent. for the same period in 2002. There were 2,869 new TB incidents in the first 11 months of 2003—a slight reduction on 2002. The long-term trend is still upward, although this has been distorted by changes to the TB testing programme in the aftermath of the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Ann Winterton: May I tell the Minister that this is a very serious subject for the cattle industry in the United Kingdom, that bovine TB is almost endemic and that it is creeping into different areas of the country? We have had trials and reviews, but what action will the Government take?

Mr. Bradshaw: I recognise the seriousness of the matter, not just for the cattle industry, but for the taxpayer. TB in cattle is costing the general public more than £70 million a year—not just in compensation paid to owners whose cattle are slaughtered, but on research programmes, which are an important part of the action. The hon. Lady will be aware of the randomised badger culling trials that are being undertaken to try to ascertain the true role played by badgers and whether badger culling operations should be a possible policy option in the future. We are also reviewing our whole TB strategy. If the hon. Lady would like to feed her views and comments into that review, I am sure that they would be extremely welcome.

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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 12 January—Second Reading of the Housing Bill.

Tuesday 13 January—Opposition Day [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 14 January—Second Reading of the Employment Relations Bill.

Thursday 15 January—Second Reading of the Human Tissue Bill.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 19 January—Second Reading of the Civil Contingencies Bill.

Tuesday 20 January—Second Reading of the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill.

Wednesday 21 January—Opposition Day [3rd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 22 January—Debate on "Attendance and Behaviour in Schools" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

I have today written to all Members explaining how I intend to review the sitting times of the Chamber before the next election. Members will recall that the decision of the House in October 2002 was to change the hours until the end of this Parliament. The Modernisation Committee will need to review the current arrangements before then, and the House will need to decide whether to maintain or change them.

In the meantime, I will consult on a series of common-sense alterations that can be made—without waiting for the Modernisation Committee's review—to make the current arrangements work better, for example, through changing Committee sitting times and the times when the Chamber is available for visits. Members have expressed their concerns to me about the clash of Committee sittings with other duties, the 8.55am start times, the compression of the week, making better use of early evenings and access for constituents.

On the main question of the sitting hours themselves, there were and still are strong views. Since becoming Leader of the House in June last year, I have been made only too aware of the deep division of opinion between Members in all parties. We are keen to ensure that we find a way forward that, as far as possible, reflects a new and durable consensus, so I wish to explore a balanced set of changes. Colleagues will receive from the Procedure Committee a questionnaire about hours and the Modernisation Committee will consider its findings as part of its formal review of hours, which will include a more comprehensive survey. I can assure the House that all Members will have an opportunity to express their views.

Mr. Heald: I thank the Leader of the House for his announcement about sitting hours, but he knows that

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the House is looking for prompt action from him. Will he tell us more about the timetable of his review and that of the Modernisation Committee—either today or, if not, next week?

The programme motion on the Traffic Management Bill, which was dealt with on Monday, provided for a Committee end-date of 12 February. However, hon. Members assumed that the Bill would start its Committee stage next week, in accordance with normal procedure. Is he aware that we have now been told that the Committee will not start until 3 February and that there is widespread concern about that? Will he pledge that future programme motions will make it clear if there is to be a late start date in Committee, and what does he intend to do about that programme motion in particular?

On the Hutton report, can the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will not only make the statement to the House that we have been told about, but will lead for the Government in the debate? Does the Leader of the House agree that it is important that civil servants are treated fairly? He will have seen the draft Bill proposed by the Public Administration Committee this week on the civil service. Are we to have a statement on that? On the same subject, does he expect the Prime Minister to make it clear next week in the House whether he agrees with Sir Kevin Tebbit's evidence that it was the Prime Minister who authorised the release of Dr. David Kelly's name? If the Prime Minister agrees with that evidence, he should say so, rather than leaving Sir Kevin—a senior civil servant—dangling in the wind.

Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the constitutional Bills, such as that on the reform of the House of Lords, will be dealt with on the Floor of the House, as is the convention? It is important that we receive such an assurance, especially on House of Lords reform.

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